Back in 2012, Miami Beach agreed to make Coca-Cola its "official non-alcoholic beverage sponsor." Under the terms of the ten-year contract, only Coke products would be sold in vending machines on city property, Coca-Cola would be the official sponsor of all city-run special events, and Miami Beach would commit to buying a whopping 22,500 cases of Coke beverages each year.
Seven years in, Commissioner Ricky Arriola says the agreement doesn't square well with a city tagline, #PlasticFreeMB, meant to discourage reliance on single-use plastics. He's pushing the city to terminate its contract before the 2021 end date.
"We can't have as our main corporate sponsor somebody who's selling water and soda in plastic bottles and vending machines throughout the city and at our city events, handing out plastic water bottles," Arriola tells New Times. "We can't have that. That's hypocritical."
City commissioners were supposed to discuss abandoning the contract during their meeting last week. But amidst time constraints, the conversation was deferred to July 17.
The city began its #PlasticFreeMB crusade in 2017 with an ordinance prohibiting the sale and use of Styrofoam. A year later, city commissioners banned plastic straws and stirrers from all city property. They also barred the use of plastic bags on city rights of way and at sidewalk cafés.
Under the #PlasticFreeMB campaign, the city encourages residents to "drink in style" by always carrying a reusable bottle. Yet plastic bottles of Coke, Vitamin Water, and Dasani continue to be sold in city vending machines. And Coca-Cola, which produces 209,000 plastic bottles a minute, is featured prominently at city events, including this week's Fire on the Fourth Festival:
Under its contract with Miami Beach, Coca-Cola agreed to pay the city $325,000 per year to become the official sponsor. But Arriola says those payments are undermined by the fact that Miami Beach is required to purchase 22,500 cases of Coke products annually. According to a price schedule included in the contract, the cheapest option is a case of 12-ounce bottles of Dasani, which run $8.88 apiece. If Miami Beach bought 22,500 of them, it'd add up to nearly $200,000.
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In another odd detail from the contract, the city agreed to give Coca-Cola 26 rounds of golf each year at the Miami Beach Golf Course, as well as four free passes to at least six ticketed events, such as Art Basel.
"To me, it's not a great deal for the city," Arriola says.
It's worth noting the contract calls for the creation of a recycling program, in which Coca-Cola provides recycling bins for city facilities and educational materials for events. But Arriola says with the city pushing to abandon plastic, he's bothered by plastic-bottle-packed vending machines on Miami Beach property and by the hundreds of thousands of plastic bottles the city must buy because of the purchase requirement.
"I don't know how we can with a straight face say we want to continue the contract while at the same time being committed to being plastic free," he says. "I think it's hypocritical. You just can't do both."